In a Nutshell: The Zippo 200 was defined by pit strategy, the type of race that’s become typical for road-course events in NASCAR this season. Busch Series teams found themselves heading down pit road as early as lap 4, with the catch can man and the fuel-mileage calculator becoming just as important as the driver of the race. As soon as they could, teams were taking on that extra splash of fuel, shortpitting to gain that extra on-track advantage – while hoping they wouldn’t run out of gas at the checkered flag.
But even with so many teams rolling the dice, there was a familiar face in Victory Lane when the dust cleared – and all the road-course ringers and Busch Series regulars were left scratching their heads at what might have been.
Kevin Harvick won his fifth race of the season Sunday, continuing a streak of four wins in his last five Busch Series starts by crossing the line first at Watkins Glen. Harvick played an aggressive fuel strategy and was able to stretch his fuel mileage over the last 43 laps of the race, using caution flags to stretch his tank and outlast other competitors. Harvick briefly came under pressure late in the race from Kurt Busch, but Busch’s brakes faded over the last 10 laps and he wasn’t able to mount a late-race charge, making it smooth sailing for the driver of the No. 21 AutoZone Chevrolet.
As for the other drivers expected to challenge here, they all fell victim to mechanical failures or poor decisions on pit road. In particular, last week’s focal point Robby Gordon was doomed from the beginning of the race. He had a problem shifting into second gear heading into the first corner of the first lap, and ultimately had his transmission fail. Marcos Ambrose was another strong car last week that ran near the front on Saturday, but his pit strategy didn’t pan out well at all, and he wound up coming home 13th. Road-course ringers Ron Fellows and Scott Pruett struggled, eventually taking themselves out in a last-lap crash, while Boris Said was never a factor.
Behind Harvick, Jeff Burton came home second while Busch, Paul Menard and Brad Coleman rounded out the top five. Matt Kenseth, Bobby Labonte, Casey Mears, Ryan Newman and Andy Lally came home sixth through 10th.
Who Should Have Won: Kurt Busch. Busch was the strongest car in the field on Saturday, leading a total of 20 of the first 47 laps; even though pit strategy put him behind Harvick, he was second heading to the final series of caution flags through laps 68-72. However, he overdrove the turn 1 during a restart on lap 69 that ultimately cost him two spots and dropped him from second to fourth. He got himself back to second with some aggressive driving past Menard and Burton, but then overdrove turn 1 again with seven laps to go, all but ending his chances for the win; he was third at the finish. Busch’s car was very strong, but it appears track position faulted him on this day, as working his way up through the top five caused his brakes to fade in the closing laps.
Three Questions You Should Be Asking After The Race Weekend
1) Is it really that hard to get back to the race before the green flag flies after a caution?
One of the redeeming qualities for ESPN during their original coverage of NASCAR back in the day was that they would get back to the race for a good portion of the last lap of a caution period. But once again this weekend, ESPN missed the green flag more than once as a yellow flag ended. With all of the commercial time they have during races, it would seem as though they could put an extra commercial into a green-flag break instead, allowing us to see the restart.
2) Isn’t there some way that the spotters for NASCAR can communicate there is a problem back in the pack before a green flag flies?
With 13 laps to go, the field was coming to the green flag for a restart when someone slowed up in front of Juan Pablo Montoya. He checked up to avoid the traffic, but not everyone saw the problem; with the pack stacking up behind the No. 42, he wound up getting rear-ended by Steve Wallace. Wallace’s car was damaged severely, leaking fluid onto the track while the race was still under the yellow flag. In this scenario, it would have made more sense for the restart to have been aborted; but it wasn’t, causing the mayhem of cars scrambling into turn 1 when spotters were radioing there was a problem on the track.
3) Are road-course ringers really a help to the teams that hire them?
Every time a NASCAR series comes to a road course, there are road-course specialists that are hired to try and give their teams a better chance to win a race. However, it seems like it doesn’t pay off with much success most of the time, and Saturday was no exception. The highest finishing road-course ace in the Busch race was Lally, who came home 10th in the No. 47 Clorox Ford. That means that in three Busch Series road-course races this season, not one was won by a road-course specialist (Harvick won at Montreal last week, while Montoya captured the victory in Mexico City this March).
Worth Noting/Points Shuffle
Harvick is on fire in the Busch Series. In his last five starts, he has four wins and a second-place finish, keeping him third in the standings despite missing seven events on the year. Harvick’s win was his 31st in Busch Series competition and tied him with Jack Ingram for second all-time in the series; he still needs 16 wins to pass Mark Martin for the lead in that category.
Coleman came home fifth this week, a very impressive run for the Busch Series rookie. After a 38th-place finish in Mexico to start his year, Coleman has finishes of eighth and fifth in his last two road-course races. He also joined with road-course ace Lally to be the only non-Cup Series drivers to crack the top 10.
Carl Edwards had a rough day, at one point breaking a track bar mount and having to go behind the wall to fix his car. He lost more of his points lead to David Reutimann and now only leads by 766 with 11 races remaining. However, the team’s struggles are not sitting well with Edwards, who is also worried about the owners’ championship, a race which is far closer than the driver points battle. Edwards only scored 67 points for the No. 60 car with his 32nd-place finish, his worst of the year, while Burton brought home 170 points for his second-place finish. The end result is that the No. 60 team is now only 44 points ahead of the No. 29 in the owner standings.
Rounding out the top 10 in driver points, Harvick sits third behind Edwards and Reutimann, with Jason Leffler fourth and David Ragan fifth after uneventful runs at the Glen. Bobby Hamilton Jr. continues to hold down the sixth spot, with Stephen Leicht, Ambrose and Mike Wallace seventh through ninth. Greg Biffle finished 11th Saturday to move into 10th in points.
Buschwhackers in the race: 16
Starting spots taken by Buschwhackers YTD: 408 of 985
Buschwhackers finishing in the Top 10: 8
Buschwhackers finishing in the Top 10 YTD: 170 of 240
Races won by Buschwhackers YTD: 11 of 24
Buschwhackers ranked in the Top 10 in Busch Series points standings: 5
“Last week, they all wanted to talk about the controversy; this week, we didn’t leave them any doubt about what to talk about. Just to be up there with Mark Martin, Jack Ingram and Sam Ard is a true honor. If they walked through the garage now, they [Ingram and Ard] wouldn’t even be recognized, and that is a shame.” – Kevin Harvick, talking about tying Jack Ingram for second all-time in Busch Series victories
“Harvick is just incredible on these road courses. We still have a way to go to catch them. We got into a lapped car [the No. 99 of David Reutimann] and tore up the left-front fender; it hurt us a little bit. I thought a lapped car would have given us a little more respect than they did.” – Jeff Burton
“We were running hard every lap and didn’t get much of a chance to cool the brakes. When we went into the first turn on that restart, the pedal went to the floor and I didn’t want to hit the No. 21, so I went around. We were still fast, but when we got past someone we just couldn’t pump them back up fast enough. We didn’t defend the win, but we’re happy to come home third.” – Kurt Busch
“It compares a lot. My first lap out there, I knew exactly where to go. You don’t realize how fast those Esses are, though. You go through there at like 150 mph, and it is fast.” – Brad Coleman, on practicing for the race on a video game
Next Up: After two straight races on road courses for the first time in Busch Series history, the series returns to oval-track racing for the remainder of the season. Next week, the series heads to the Irish Hills of Michigan for the Carfax 250 at Michigan International Speedway, their first and only event on the 2-mile oval this season. The race will be broadcast Saturday, August 18th at 3:00 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN2 or heard on your local MRN radio affiliate.